What three things can never be done; forget, keep silent, stand alone.
Now It Is Time That Gods Came Walking
by Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926)
Translated by Stephen Mitchell
Now it is time that gods came walking out of lived-in Things … Time that they came and knocked down every wall inside my house. New page. Only the wind from such a turning could be strong enough to toss the air as a shovel tosses dirt: A fresh-turned field of breath. O gods, gods! who used to come so often and are still asleep in the Things around us, who serenely rise and at wells that we can only guess at splash icy water on your necks and faces, and lightly add your restedness to what seems already filled to bursting: our full lives. Once again let it be your morning, gods. We keep repeating. You alone are source. With you the world arises, and your dawn gleams on each crack and crevice of our failure …”
Poem (I lived in the first century of world wars)
By Muriel Rukeyser (1913 – 1980)
I lived in the first century of world wars.
Most mornings I would be more or less insane,
The newspapers would arrive with their careless stories,
The news would pour out of various devices
Interrupted by attempts to sell products to the unseen.
I would call my friends on other devices;
They would be more or less mad for similar reasons.
Slowly I would get to pen and paper,
Make my poems for others unseen and unborn.
In the day I would be reminded of those men and women,
Brave, setting up signals across vast distances,
Considering a nameless way of living, of almost unimagined values.
As the lights darkened, as the lights of night brightened,
We would try to imagine them, try to find each other,
To construct peace, to make love, to reconcile
Waking with sleeping, ourselves with each other,
Ourselves with ourselves. We would try by any means
To reach the limits of ourselves, to reach beyond ourselves,
I am so glad you are here. It helps me realize how beautiful my world is.
Rainer Maria Rilke
Weißt du noch: (ohne Titel)
by Rainer Maria Rilke
Weißt du noch: fallende Sterne, die quer wie Pferde durch die Himmel sprangen über plötzlich hingehaltne Stangen unsrer Wünsche– hatten wir so viele?– denn es sprangen Sterne, ungezählt; fast ein jeder Aufblick war vermählt mit dem raschen Wagnis ihrer Spiele, und das Herz fühlte empfand sich als ein Ganzes unter diesen Trümmern ihres Glanzes and war heil, als überstünd es sie!
Untitled [Do you still remember: falling stars]
by Rainer Maria Rilke – 1875-1926 Translated by Albert Earnest Flemming
Do you still remember: falling stars, how they leapt slantwise through the sky like horses over suddenly held-out hurdles of our wishes—did we have so many?— for stars, innumerable, leapt everywhere; almost every gaze upward became wedded to the swift hazard of their play, and our heart felt like a single thing beneath that vast disintegration of their brilliance— and was whole, as if it would survive them
by Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926)
Herr: es ist Zeit. Der Sommer war sehr groß. Leg deinen Schatten auf die Sonnenuhren, und auf den Fluren laß die Winde los.
Befiel den letzten Früchten voll zu sein; gib ihnen noch zwei südlichere Tage, dränge sie zur Vollendung hin und jage die letzte Süße in den schweren Wein.
Wer jetzt kein Haus hat, baut sich keines mehr. Wer jetzt allein ist, wird es lange bleiben, wird wachen, lesen, lange Briefe schreiben und wird in den Alleen hin und her unruhig wandern, wenn die Blätter treiben.
By Rainer Maria Rilke Translated by Galway Kinnell and Hannah Liebman
Lord: it is time. . . The summer was immense.
Lay your shadow on the sundials and let loose the wind in the fields.
Bid the last fruits to be full; give them another two more southerly days, press them to ripeness, and chase the last sweetness into the heavy wine.
Whoever has no house now will not build one anymore.
Whoever is alone now will remain so for a long time, will stay up, read, write long letters, and wander the avenues, up and down, restlessly, while the leaves are blowing.
my failures have become,
Scraping chairs across the room
they sit down next to me
like family almost,
and indeed we have grown
to look alike.
One of them always puts
a log on the fire
and though its wet
and fouls the room
I am warm for awhile,
and drunk with yawning
I sometimes fall asleep
Rilke was Austrian by birth, but traveled extensively in Europe and eventually settled in Switzerland. During his travels he met novelists (Tolstoy, Pasternak) sculptors (Rodin) and painters, often working for some of them or using the artists he met for creative inspiration for his writing. He died young from Leukemia. Rilke moved in artistic and intellectual circles for his times. His writing is deeply mystical and has inspired numerous poets I admire, Pastan, Bly and Lowell are but a short list top of mind.
I recently picked up a book of Rilke’s sonnets translated by Stephen Mitchell. I recommend it. Mitchell is a talented translator having tackled projects in addition to poetry on religion and spirituality in Chinese, German and Hebrew. I am intrigued by Mitchell’s The Gospel According to Jesus: A New Translation and Guide to His Essential Teachings for Believers and Unbelievers (1993), Tao Te Ching (1992) and The Book of Job (1992). I have at least five different translations of the Tao Te Ching, I would be curious to see Mitchell’s version.
I am always fascinated by self portraits. Someday I would like to think I will have time to create another self portrait, maybe even one with paint. To date, the stained glass, lead creation above is the only one I have ever done. However, the idea of creating a self-portrait in words as a poem is intriguing. Am I capable of depicting a faithful rendering of myself in words or paint? Interesting to consider. Have you crafted a self portrait or more than one? Where does it hang, in your house or someone else’s?
by Rainer Maria Rilke
The stamina of an old long-noble race
in the eyebrows’ heavy arches. In the mild
blue eyes the solemn anguish of a child
and here and there humility — not a fool’s
but feminine: the look of one who serves.
The mouth quite ordinary large and straight
composed yet not willing to speak out
when necessary. The forehead still naive
most comfortable in shadows looking down.
This as a whole just hazily foreseen —
never in any joy of suffering
collected for a firm accomplishment;
and yet as though from far off with scattered things
a serious true work was being planned.
Star, that looked so long among the stones
And picked from them, half iron and half dirt,
One; and bent and put it to her lips
And breathed upon it till at last it burned
Uncertainly, among the stars its sisters-
Breathe on me still, star, sister.
An evening’s star light show should not be a privileged treat, the scourge of light pollution in our modern existence making something that our forebears took for granted for millenia into something that can still make me awestruck. The Utah sky opened up the heavens last week and shone brightly in silent splendor. We basked in the darkness, having been blessed with several moonless nights, the moon dipping below the horizon shortly after sunset allowing us full access to the dark canvas of the milky way and the night sky.
I know enough about the night sky and stars to find Orion, his belt and sword, swashbuckling brilliance in the Utah darkness and the big dipper and the north star clearly demarcating where we were in relation to an artificial axis should we feel the need to set out on foot. I should learn a little more about astronomy, if for no other reason than to learn a new language in light on those special evenings. The stars are a visible connection to our human history. There are few things in our natural landscape that we can view that are virtually unchanged from ancestors centuries ago, if we can break free of lights narrowing our pupils to blind us to their ancestral twinkle.
One of the joys of travel to remote places is the ability to connect to earth, to water, to animals, to plants and to the sky; the clouds and sun and stars taking on personalities all their own as you enjoy their presence throughout the day and evening. The sky in Utah has a sense of humor, it changes throughout the day, never staying for long in a single mood.
Two of my favorite poets, Randall Jarrell and Robert Bly, both were captivated by the poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke and translated extensively his work from German to English. Jarrell’s well-rounded academic perspective bringing a generous specificity to Rilke, that makes the translations seem original and natural. I am grateful that more gifted intellects than mine, can open a door into the poetry of great minds in languages I could only superficially explore without their careful word craft. The poem below, The Evening Star, a metaphysical journey of whether the stars we see in the night sky shine from within or from without or both as we blaze energy across the emptiness of space in connection with each other.
The Evening Star
By Rainer Maria Rilke
Translated by Randall Jarrell
One star in the dark pass of the houses,
Shines as if it were a sign
Set there to point the way to –
But more beautiful, somehow, than what it points to,
So that no one has ever gone on beyond
Except those who could not see it, and went on
To what it pointed to, and could not see that either.
The star far off separates yet how could I see it
If there were not inside me the same star ?
We wish on the star because the star itself is a wish,
An unwilling halting place, so far and no farther.
Everything is its own sigh at being what it is
And no more, an unanswered yearning
Toward what will be, or was once perhaps,
Or might be, might have been, or – – –
And so soon after the sun goes, and night comes,
The star has set.